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Two teams known for their power running games turned to their quarterbacks more than usual Saturday.
Don Butkus and Mt. Carmel just did Dylan Andrew one better.
Andrew threw a pair of touchdown passes for Neuqua Valley, but Butkus tossed three -- including the go-ahead score in the fourth quarter -- and Mt. Carmel beat the Wildcats 26-21 in Saturday's Class 8A semifinal playoff game in front of a standing room only crowd in Naperville.
"He's a great quarterback and came out and made some plays," Andrew said of his counterpart. "We had to come up with some answers and I think we did a great job of that for the most part. They just made a few more plays than we did."
Neuqua Valley (12-1), seeking its first trip to a state championship game in school history, was tied 14-14 with 10-time state champion Mt. Carmel heading into the fourth quarter.
Butkus broke the tie with 8:17 left, finding a wide-open Jason Gasser on play-action for a 13-yard touchdown pass and 20-14 lead. It was the third time Butkus, 10 of 15 for 127 yards, hooked up with Gasser on scoring strikes. A 6-yard Butkus to Gasser throw on third down kept the drive alive three plays earlier.
"Our run really helps set it up. The play-action, it was there all day," Gasser said. "They were biting, and Don threw great balls."
Stopping Mt. Carmel's vaunted split-back veer can be a pick-your-poison proposition.
"We obviously committed a lot of guys to their option," Neuqua coach Bill Ellinghaus said. "Credit to them for making the plays when they needed to. They haven't shown a ton passing all year long."
Butkus, the great nephew of Chicago Bears great Dick Butkus, later hurt his left ankle on a conversion run. He had to be helped off the field and left for the bus on crutches. Butkus and Mt. Carmel will play Glenbard North in next Saturday's 8A final.
"He said some guy fell on it and another may have stepped on it," Mt. Carmel coach Frank Lenti said. "Our doctor said it might be a little sprain. We'll have to see."
Mt. Carmel (12-1) led 26-14 after a Matt Domer touchdown run, but Neuqua wasn't quite done.
Andrew connected with Reggie Ervin on a 32-yard touchdown pass, Ervin picking a tipped ball out of mid-air, with 32 seconds left. But Mt. Carmel recovered the ensuing onsides kick.
Neuqua couldn't have asked for a better start.
On the opening kickoff Mikey Dudek electrified the Naperville home crowd with a 99-yard kickoff for a touchdown and 7-0 lead out of the gate.
Neuqua stuffed Mt. Carmel on fourth-and-goal from the 1, but the Caravan answered by turning away three straight Joey Rhattigan runs for no gain near the goal line to prevent Neuqua from going up two scores early.
It foreshadowed tough sledding for Neuqua's all-state tailback.
A 2,192-yard rusher coming off 292 yards against Waubonsie Valley and 346 against defending champ Bolingbrook, Rhattigan ran for just 79 yards on 20 carries against a stout Caravan defense.
"They have a very good 'D' line, great linebackers, very athletic," Andrew said. "They did a great job containing. But we made plays."
Yes they did. Andrew's 39-yard screen pass to Rhattigan led to a 10-yard touchdown strike to a diving Dudek for a 14-7 lead with 1:58 left in the first half. That score was matched by Butkus' 24-yarder to Gasser to tie it 14-14 at half.
Andrew completed his first 7 passes, finishing 11 of 20 for 207 yards. Dudek caught 4 of those.
Neuqua, 5-5 a year ago, came quite a way in Ellinghaus' first season as head coach. Before this year the school hadn't so much as reached a football quarterfinal.
"I'm proud of the way my kids fought. They battled until the end," Ellinghaus said. "Nobody thought we'd be in this position except for those kids and our coaches. Nobody else gave us a second thought. I couldn't be happier for the kids."